Thursday, 31 March 2016

Next!: Who Do You Think You Are?

I'm not going to dwell on the Daily Mail article, but I think it was neatly summed up by one of the comments online which ran something like "well, now I've read all that, I don't need to buy the book". I've had some reaction but it was more of a ripple than a tidal wave. And that is what I expected when I saw the article on Saturday morning and realised that their definition of a "snippet" about each man was slightly different from mine, and that there was nothing to entice people to look further, that this was part of a bigger project, that the book was full of so much more, of pictures and letters and poetry, and that the feature writer had told me it was the best book she'd ever read.

One doesn't get many shots at national publicity so it was a bit frustrating, but I'm reminded of what happened when I took part in Open Studios in 2006. I went to a huge amount of effort, getting marquees, having display boards built, printing up and framing loads of work, setting up my shed cinema, painting signs & putting them on all the roads leading to me, booking a band for the opening party - but a combination of appalling weather (which led to the band only just being able to play with freezing hands, and then one of the marquees taking off and nearly performing a loop-the-loop, luckily after all the artwork had been removed and re-displayed inside my tiny house) and poor publicity from the central Open Studios organisers meant that I had hardly any visitors who weren't already familiar with my work and virtually zero sales. But, and it's a very big 'BUT', that Open Studios was vital on the path that led to where I am now with my Group Photograph project. Not only did one of my visitors to my shed cinema become an enthusiast who is still sending me encouraging emails 10 years later, but another booked me to give a presentation in my village, which led to a presentation in a library, which led to all the other presentations I've given. I had had a long lay-off from my project and not only did this re-awaken my interest but I also saw that what I had done actually meant something to other people, that it wasn't just my magnificent solitary obsession. One has hopes and plans, and though those hopes and plans may appear to be dashed, one just never knows what hopes and plans the world has got for you. The important thing is to keep getting out there, making what you do visible and then things happen, often in ways you could not imagine.

And it's been easier to write that because my next hopes and plans are already in motion. Next week from Thursday 7th to Saturday 9th April, I'm at the NEC in Birmingham for Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2016, the biggest family history exhibition in the World. It's all rather happened at the last minute, but I've been given Stand 332 and in the last week I've booked the electric hook-up and furniture and a van to take a load of books and am currently making checklists of things I need to take. I've also had the great good fortune to find a friend to accompany me who has experience of being on a stand at the NEC and who is able to run the whole thing with me, along with some other kind helpers who I've heard from today. On a 4 metre x 5 metre stand I'm not going to be able show much from the Ypres exhibition, but I have set up some projections to throw onto the back wall and am looking forward to talking to people about various aspects of my project. And the big news is that Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine are running an 8-page spread about my project and I think it might even be going on the cover - and it's coming out to coincide with the opening of the exhibition at the NEC. It's all very exciting and I can't wait to get going with it.

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